2005 Tour of Mull... ‘The usual disasters’ Part 1
Feb 07,2006 00:00 by Julian

As we all know, sometimes things don’t quite go according to plan, and there’s often no better place for things to go wrong than on those twisty bits of Mull tarmac! In this, the first of two articles covering the 2005 Tour of Mull event, Jamie Smith describes a run beset with gremlins and details the kind of determination required to ‘see things through’ Mull style.

Thursday 13th

We had a late start, after a leisurely breakfast, before heading off to drive around as many of the stages as we could in the afternoon and evening. The notes from our previous recce trip to the island seemed to be consistent; and only a few changes and tweaks were made. As usual the recce is often the most tiring part of a rally; since it takes a long time to cover all the roads at least twice with the added hit of having to really concentrate all the time on what the calls should be for every corner and hazard on the route. In combination with our previous trip we now had a set of pacenotes that had been checked over every bit of stage at least twice in the dark; which is the critical bit - since a road takes on a very different shape in the dark even when you have the extra light of a lamp pod. You lose visual clues that you take for granted during the day to help gauge the severity of an approaching corner; and the headlights pick up crests that just don't exist in daylight. Overall I was happy with the pacenotes; though trepidation about how to take some of the crests and jumps was creeping in - since I hadn't really classified crests enough, which is something I plan to do for my next trip.

Friday 14th

Scrutineering was a dawdle at the distillary after we had spent a couple of hours finishing off the car. I needed to move the seat and change the steering wheel to get a comfortable driving position and the steering wheel proved a bit of a hassle; involving a quick trip to the local chandlery to get a screw that could be cut to length to replace the one that had been damaged trying to get the wheel off. We ended up with a local URL advertised on the windscreen; since the Mishnish pub had a space sticker; and Gunny who would be servicing for us on Friday night had contacts there. Not sponsorship as such; but I did get a drink bought for me :-). Being so far down the running order (car 99 of around 150) meant we had time to watch the top seeded competitors over the ramp before we even had to change into our romper suits for our own start. Finally we were ready; and we joined the queue of cars in the car park waiting to go over the ramp. It was at this point, about 5mins before we were due on the ramp, that we discovered that the intercom battery was flat! After a few minutes of panic D. Barritt (car 111) stepped in to save the day by giving us their spare battery. Cheers. It would have been hell driving the roads and not being able to hear Chris call the pacenotes. With the pre-start trauma over I was remarkably calm and collected on the start line of the first stage. The Mishnish Lochs stage is one of the easier bits of Mull road; closer to the roads on the Ulster, Manx of Jim Clark than some of the other bits; so it was the stage I was least worried by.

Image by kind permission of: www.ecossepix.co.uk

So the first stage was going quite well; until the first real hard braking point - when the back of the car tried to overtake the front. This was possibly caused by me not bedding in the pads correctly. This gave us a bit of a wake-up call and caused Chris to tell me to slow down since I think he thought I was being reckless. So I wussed it a bit from then on until the end of the stage since I didn't want to push too hard on the brakes in the fast stuff; which meant backing off a bit early and braking much sooner than I would really have liked. We did catch and pass a car quite near the start of the stage that had obviously had problems; but overall our time was quite disappointing. I cheered myself up later by looking at our in-car footage to see that our pace on the top beside the loch was pretty good compared to the top-boys in-car from the 2004 event (with much faster more powerful machinery); at least up until the braking hard wobbles dented my confidence and caused me to drive with caution over the last half of the stage. So there was a sense of relief at getting the first stage out of the way, and I was looking forward to the very technical challenge that is the Hill Road. I had been teased by a friend who is very experienced with competing on Mull that he was convinced I would fall off at a tricky corner about 1mile into this stage. Luckily he had teased us during the recce; so I had a chance to "caution" the corner up a bit on one of our slow speed passes... and we made it safely around that one. However, about 2miles into the tricky Hill Road we did fall off! I had changed a note on the recce from a L2 into a L3... and that was a mistake since at rally speed it wasn't a 3 at all. We understeered off; I tried to correct and we bounced a bit and landed half-on/half-off the road. Unfortunatelyy the bouncing along the edge of the road meant we didn't have reverse gear any more; so we spent about 7minutes there until some kindly marshals lifted us back onto the road. This was much appreciated since they put a lot of effort into getting us back on the road. Big thanks lads!

As well as no reverse I soon found out that we had a broken steering rack mount; since the steering was a bit hit'n'miss at times. So this meant a very slow journey to the service area. We still had most of the stage to do so I was very careful to ensure that we didn't hold up any of the crews that caught us on the stage as we limped out. Also on the way to service we ascertained that we didn't have 5th gear either. So after a very short amount of competitive mileage I had managed to reduce the performance of the car quite heavily. In service Andy and Gunny set about replacing the steering rack mount. Sadly it took the boys so long to replace the mount that we left service 24mins late and hence would be OTL at the end of the leg. We knew this but decided to get some stage mileage in since I want to try and do better on my next visit to the Tour of Mull so some practice would be useful. Even without 5th gear it would still be enough of a challenge to go well over the narrow bumpy stages. The short Ardtun stage (SS3 and SS4) went OK; if a bit wussy due to me not fully trusting the brakes quite yet. However I was now used to the braking characteristics again - so maybe I should just ensure that the pads are fully bedded in the next time I attempt such a hard braking event; plus having a competitive speed shakedown to get my eye back in would be no bad thing. Then the fates decided to through some more problems our way! On the start line of SS5 the fuel pump started to play up. It sounded like a helicopter taking off in the back of the car; and the engine wasn't getting enough fuel to run smoothly. This meant a very slow start to the stage; but once the revs built up under load the engine would suck the fuel and it would keep on song as long as we kept about 5000rpm or so. It did mean we crawled away from the start line though. To add insult to the whole affair, about 1mile into this short stage we lost power steering, which meant a bit of a heavy struggle around the slower corners (due to the nice wide sticky tyres we had on). Everything seemed to be combining to stopping me from setting a competitive time.

Image by kind permission of: www.ecossepix.co.uk

So the latest failings now meant we had no reverse or 5th, no power steering and a fuel pump that was playing up! It didn't help when I had a half spin on SS6 when the back went light over a crest into an immediately following corner; which meant we ended up facing more off the road than on, but luckily I could pull the car out forwards and we continued on our way. If we had spun a bit more such that we needed reverse then we would have been doomed; since there was no-one around and we would have been blocking most of what was a narrow section of road. I have never worked so hard in my life as steering the car around all the hairpins and tight corners. It was a real slow struggle at times; and I have never sweated so much when rallying ever. It seems weird since I have driven many cars without power steering; including one of my current road cars - but it was a real battle of strength to get the rally car to turn corners. We almost didn't make it into the start of SS7 due to the fuel pump problems. We just rolled into the time control on our minute and whilst at the red board the car died; and it took us about 5minutes to get it restarted; for the now familiar slow crawl off the line until we built up some revs under load. Once the car was going it was at least driveable; given the fact that slow corners were a nightmare due to the lack of power steering and fuel problems - and the fast bits were a pain because we didn't have 5th. As we expected from service we were declared OTL at the end of the leg; but we had at least done all the stage mileage - if not always at any true competitive speed! This meant we were out of the main rally; but at least had the option of competing in the Saturday afternoon and Saturday night Trophy rallies; for cars that were out of the proper event; but were still safe to compete.

Click HERE to read Part Two

Article kindly supplied by Jamie Smith.

You can read more of Jamie’s rallying exploits and watch some great in-car footage by visiting: www.rallysmith.co.uk